- Historic Sites
If Only Mr. Madison Had Waited—
Gambling on a diplomatic coup with a wily Napoleon, he maneuvered America into the needless War of 1812
April 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 3
The expenses of the Peninsular campaign, the drain of their subsidies to Europe, the cumulative effect of American Embargo, Non-Importation, and Non-Intercourse had taught even such stubborn mercantilists as the Tory Cabinet that a monopoly of the colonial trade was not so valuable as access to open markets. On June 16 Canning announced the Tory Cabinet’s decision to suspend the Orders, and on June 23 they were in fact suspended. But on June 18 the United States had declared war and, by the time the news of the suspension crossed the Atlantic, there was no turning back.
What a different reputation Madison’s presidency might have borne if only he could have waited two months longer! But he had long since lost control of events, he had coerced himself into the arms of the war party, and reputations, after all, are rarely made or lost by the calendar. As for Napoleon, whom Madison had never trusted and had learned to hate, he disappeared immediately from American calculations and in the direction of Elba, Waterloo, and St. Helena.
Since the Jeffiersonians gained Louisiana in 1803 and did not exactly lose the War of 1812, perhaps they got the better of him—or, perhaps, since the Jeffersonians were turned into nationalists in the process, it was the terrible, transforming emperor who had the last word.